Skip to main content

People of India have given a go bye to our secular ethos, admits Congress leader

Arif Mohammad Khan
By Salman Khurshid*
Two recent events have persuaded me to write this letter to my fellow country citizens. First, an interview of Arif Mohammed Khan by the inimitable Karan Thapar; the other, a letter written to Prime Minister Modi by 18 eminent Muslim citizens. But before I proceed with the content two caveats are necessary.
Arif Khan and I have a history that goes back to his vigorous advocacy of his brand of secularism in the Shah Bano controversy. I had not only opposed him, though analytically and not entirely on the understanding of the Muslim Personal Law Board, but also written about it in a book, ‘At Home in India’. Many years later I supported his bid for heading the India International Islamic Centre for reasons not relevant here.
As for the letter of 18 worthies I admit in our democracy a minimum level of conversation has to be maintained between the citizen and the government of the day, no matter how unacceptable it might be ideologically or historically. But of course on manner and merit of the conversation my response follows.
In all fairness I must record that the interview was given by Arif Khan, as an Indian and not as a Muslim, as though there is a crucial difference. Interestingly in the Karan Thapar interview on being asked if the recent election results surprised him, Arif Khan replied, ‘Why? I have been warning the country since Shah Bano that thus will happen.’
On being asked whether it did not worry him that the ruling establishment did not have a single Muslim MP, he replied, ‘How is that relevant? Just as it was when I was MP the present MPs also represent all voters, not just Hindus or Muslims. It is a colonial mindset that makes people speak of religion of the public representatives.’
However, what took the cake was when Karan Thapar sought his reaction to important functionaries of the BJP telling Muslims to go to Pakistan etc., he contorted his face like no one else in public life can and said, ‘It is you people in the press to blame. Why do you cover such people and broadcast their views to the world?’
Pardon my sentiment, but does it seem a bit like ‘the King can do no wrong’? And we know that for some the majority is king. Fundamental rights and constitutional protection against majority opinion in some circumstances is for the birds!
Not surprisingly Arif Khan asserted that minority is a neither here nor there term undefined in the Constitution. Interestingly Karan Thapar informed the viewer that Arif Khan had at various times been a member of the Janata Party, Congress, BSP and BJP. We were not told though why he left the BJP.
But what he himself made clear is that identity is inimical to democracy, secularism as practiced all along is a scheme for garnering votes of minority groups to undermine the importance of majority opinion, that inclusion means absorption.
If there is a way of summing up this understanding of democracy, it is ‘unity in uniformity’, not unity in diversity! Arif Khan, never to accept defeat, will hopefully respond and tell me how wrong I am. But then I have heard that before, in the 2019 elections!
Now about the letter by eminent Muslims. It was prompted by the Prime Minister’s speech to newly elected BJP MPs. Admittedly, it was a departure from his speeches of the past, both from various fora and during the campaign. It was also conspicuous for mentioning minorities and strengthening inclusion by adding ‘Sab ka vishvas’ to ‘Sab ka Saath, sab ka vikas.’
But what many observers and indeed the signatories to the letter missed was that reference to minorities was not in the context of reparation for wrongs done, or securing justice where it was lacking in the past.
If the latter is their position, in all fairness, they need to come clean on efforts of the UPA government such as Sachar Committee and Rangnath Misra Commission reports. The signatories had to enquire where the new government in a new avataar draws the line of appeasement.
One can also not overlook the painful fact that as the PM spoke there were minority persons being attacked and assaulted; ghastly, inhuman assaults on children being put through the looking glass of religion as though even a child’s gruesome rape is to be used not for reflecting on our society but to settle communal scores.
The letter writers carefully reproduced the crucial sentences from the PM’s speech: “The way the poor have been cheated, the minorities have been deceived the same way. It would have been good if their education, their health had been in focus. Minorities have been made to live in fear by those who believed in vote-bank politics. I expect from you in 2019 that you would be able to make a hole in that deception. We have to earn their trust."
As I read it the concern seems to be show how others have failed minorities rather than accept that for whatever reason there is a failure to ensure equal opportunity and respect.
The letter writers noted education, jobs and skills development but then went on to say something that the PM may not have looked forward to: “Confidence-building measures by ensuring adequate protection under Constitution and the law of the land. A reassurance to the innocent to ensure that hooligans would not be allowed a free run and would certainly be punished.”
It would be interesting to know if the letter will get a response in toto or we will see a limited out reach on education and health, significant mercies for the weary. Be that as it may, even these mercies have been questioned in the past and labelled appeasement and vote bank politics, a phrase repeated by the PM.
The UPA and Congress party record on minorities is often criticized by other ‘secular’ parties in addition to the opprobrium we suffer at the hands of the right wing. But to this day no one has shown that they did anything substantive beyond empty slogans and symbolism.
Throughout our commitment to the minorities has been consistent with the constitutional mandate that includes the idea of substantive equality and affirmative action. We must not forget that our jurisprudence of affirmative action has been built upon the concept of social and educational backwardness and does not exclude any group on the ground of religion.
Salman Khurshid
But group identity has never been proscribed as a beginning point of the exercise. Just as within Hindu castes there are beneficiary groups, there are corresponding groups amongst minorities. Yet we are being told by public figures who have feasted on identity to capture power that we must eliminate identity and erase all signs of visibility.
Today we are told that some Muslims (women?) have voted for the BJP. Vast number of citizens have voted for the BJP, we are told, because of national pride. One can hardly complain about that, even if it causes political darkness (hopefully temporary) for our party.
It has certainly caused confusion in our ranks at least to the extent of forcing us to separate ideology from strategy. Even with the strategy of public aloofness our modest presence in the Lok Sabha has a significant contribution of minority votes.
In our country where there is no inherent conflict between Hinduism and Islam, a shadow adversary was conjured and overwhelmed but strangely not to widespread applause in the streets but an inexplicable silence. Our defeat is not about numbers in the election but in accepting that people of India have given a go bye to our secular ethos.
To cite Amartya Sen, the election might be lost but the battle of ideas must continue. This is as much for us as for the people of India, irrespective of who they voted for. The vote is transitory but the idea eternal.
---
*Former foreign minister, Congress leader, Supreme Court advocate. Written as an open letter to fellow citizens on Facebook 

Comments

TRENDING

US research: 40% of India's casteist Facebook posts are anti-reservation, anti-Dalit

By Rajiv Shah
A recent American civil society research has found that 40% of India's casteist posts on Facebook (FB) have anti-reservation slant. Asserting that the reservation policy in India is similar to affirmative action in the United States, the research study, titled "Facebook India: Towards The Tipping Point of Violence Caste and Religious Hate Speech", says, this type of hate content on FB is mainly directed against Dalits and Adivasis.

Sanjiv Bhatt paying price for deposing on Modi role in Gujarat riots: Wife Shweta

Counterview Desk
Following the Jamnagar sessions court ordering life imprisonment to former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt for his alleged involvement in three decades old custodial death case, his wife Shweta Bhatt has said that he has been sentenced for a “for a crime he did not commit”, even as criticizing the Indian Police Service (IPS) Association, Gujarat, for not standing up for him.

Senior advocates targeted because they took up cases against Amit Shah: Lawyers' NGO

Counterview Desk
The Lawyers Collective (LC), an NGO claiming to promote human rights issues, has expressed surprise at the latest move by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to register an FIR against the Lawyers Collective (LC), its president Anand Grover and unknown office bearers for alleged violation of the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA).

How Gujarat govt imposed curbs on livestock export for 'fear' of losing BJP vote share

By RK Misra*
Insidious are the ways authorities function, preaching one thing, practicing quite another. Administrative muscle-flexing to suit political goals was on display when the BJP-led Vijay Rupani government in Gujarat banned the export of livestock days ahead of Eid. Even the Narendra Modi-led government expressed its intent to confirm it countrywide, but stopped short of doing so.

One of the least peaceful countries, India's global peace ranking deteriorates: Report

By Rajiv Shah
A just-released report has asserted that India's ranking in the Global Peace Index (GPI) is 141st among 163 countries, deteriorating by four ranks in a year. Ranking 163 countries by providing a score to each, the report, prepared by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), headquartered in Sydney, Australia, has found India to be one of the least peaceful nations in the region.

Demand for Bharat Ratna to Dalai Lama as top RSS leader warns China of 'strong' action

Nava Thakuria*
Dharamshala: Indian supporters for a free Tibet have urged the Government of India to confer Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian honour, on the Tibetan spiritual leader, the 14th Dalai Lama, for his “immense contributions” in creating goodwill for India in the last six decades. A declaration, adopted at the 6th All-India Tibet Support Groups’ Conference held on June 15 and 16 in Dharamshala township of Himachal Pradesh, said that the Nobel laureate continues to be a holy ambassador of Indian culture enriched with non-violence, compassion and religious harmony.

Sabarmati 'cleaned up' swimming pool style: Untreated effluents discharged in river

Counterview Desk
In a fresh letter to the secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Government of India, senior Gujarat environmentalists Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) have taken strong objection to the recent clean-up drive of the about 11.3 km stretch of Sabarmati riverbed undertaken by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), terming it as “swimming pool type clean-up.” The river’s total length is 371 km.

Jharkhand mob lynching: Adivasis protest police 'inaction', FIR against victims

Counterview Desk
The Jharkhand Janadhikar Manch (JJM), a civil rights network, on Monday sponsored a protest against the police action against the Adivasi victims of the lynching which took on April 10, 2019, in Jurmu village of Dumri block in Gumla district of Jharkhand. The incident led the death of Prakash Lakda, aged 50.

Gujarat govt 'considers' temples, charitable institutions as shops and establishment

By Pankti Jog*
The Gujarat state assembly recently passed a new law which would "govern" the working condition of shops and establishments. One of the most talked about provisions of the Act is, it allow shops and establishments across Gujarat to function 24 hours.

There is no 'separate' Kashmir story, as there is for Afghanistan, Nepal, Tibet, Palestine

By Mohan Guruswamy*
Kashmir is the northernmost geographical region of South Asia. Until the mid-19th century, the term "Kashmir" denoted only the valley between the Great Himalayas and the Pir Panjal mountain range. The name Kashmir derives from the Sanskrit Kashyapmeru. The Greeks knew it as Kaspeiria. Herodotus called it Kaspatyros.